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06-03-2020

New research agenda on studying fake news and alternative facts

At the end of February 2020 Routlegde published Information and Power in History. Towards a Global Approach, edited by Huygens ING researchers. It sets a new research agenda on the relationship between information and power across time and space, presenting various governance regimes, media, materials, and modes of communication.

Till now, existing studies on information history mainly focus on ‘western’ societies and their political regimes. Information and Power in History. Towards a Global Approach attempts a global and diachronic approach, with case studies extending across radically diverse social-cultural systems. This thematically ordered volume deals with the historical roots of fake news, alternative facts, and fact-checking, and shows how possession of information and knowledge can create, influence or challenge power relations. It is edited by Ida Nijenhuis, Marijke van Faassen, Ronald Sluijter (Huygens ING), Joris Gijsenbergh and Wim de Jong (Radboud University).

The relationship between information and power is a relevant subject for all times. Today’s perceived ‘information revolution’ has caused information to become a separate object of study during the last two decades for several disciplines. As the contemporary perspective is dominant, information history as a discipline of its own has not yet crystallized. In bringing together studies around a new research agenda on the relationship between information and power across time and space, presenting various governance regimes, media, materials, and modes of communication, this book forces us to rethink the prospects and challenges for such a new discipline.

We aim to set the new research agenda by historicizing this highly topical theme in contemporary public debates: we analyse the complicated relationship between information and power in all parts of society and in people’s daily lives through the ages. Both information and power are dynamic concepts with different meanings in different times or geographical regions, as is shown by our thematic approach. Each of the four themes has a slightly different focus in terms of information-power-dependency and covers a long timeframe or broad spatial range.

Experts and influence

Experts and influence puts the role of experts and expertise as transmitters and mediators of information to the fore. The relative significance of these experts is studied for a long timeframe, ranging from the Middle Ages till today. Experts can vary from merchants to marketeers, from advisors to the court to modern political scientists. The contributors reflect on issues as how did their techniques of collecting and framing information, and of influencing and wielding power, develop?

Exchange and hegemony

The main focus in Exchange and hegemony is on the collection, transfer and processing of information for the benefit of political decision making in different political regimes. Despite these different circumstances, this theme shows the continuous importance of the interlocking elements of distance, time, money, and not the least, the human element.

Disclosure and control

The attention in Disclosure and control is directed to openness, secrecy, and control of information, and its effects on power relations in different times and regimes. The focus is on questions like: how is (secret) information seized, protected, controlled and exploited? What is the attitude of the polity and society against people revealing sensitive information? How does a sector specialised in information transfer to the general public cope with an authoritarian regime?

Empowerment and neglect

Empowerment and neglect has a synchronic comparative perspective and aims at analysing how in the 20th century information acquisition, categorization and exchange took place with respect to or by specific subaltern groups in different parts of the world – varying from western democracies to post-colonial regimes in South-East Asia. The chapters are centred on the different forms of governmental information processing or management and its effects on the (self) empowerment or marginalization of these groups. Each of the chapters has a specific focus on the spatial and material dimensions of information.

The book was planned in the aftermath of a successful and inspiring international conference on ‘Information and Power in History’, organized by the editors in Amsterdam on 16–17 March 2017. This interdisciplinary meeting of both early career and established scholars from all over the globe intended to tackle the historical evolution of the connection between the different types of information and the exercise of power. It has already sharpened our image of power and information at work, and has taken a first step towards explicating the contingent and universal human elements. However, more interdisciplinary research is needed. By doing our research through the lens of ‘information history’, and drawing on the newly suggested organizing paradigms, introduced in this book, it is our ambition to further discuss the necessity, the possibilities and methodological principles for a single information historical discourse, which is firmly embedded in mainstream humanities research.

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